Saturday, May 28, 2016

"The Lobster"

 3.5 / 5 

Somewhere in the same strange city where The Lobster takes place, a man is waking up in the body of an insect and another is resisting the pressure to become a rhinoceros.

This intellectually probing but emotionally distant movie is as true to its odd proposition as Kafka and Ionesco were to theirs, but there's something even weirder (if that's possible) about The Lobster and its disturbing blend of gentle comedy, wicked satire and off-putting violence.

Still, the very fact that The Lobster got made, got released and is playing in the theater right next door to the latest Marvel blockbuster is some sort of proof that not everything is wrong in the movie industry.  The Lobster takes more risks per minute than any other movie you're likely to see this summer, maybe this year.

In the opening moments of the movie, following a brief and puzzling introduction, a man named David is forcibly removed from his home and taken to a tranquil hotel in the countryside, where he seems to understand the rules that are explained to him:

Because he does not have a romantic partner, he must stay at the hotel for 45 days, during which he can try to find someone to love from among the other guests.  If he doesn't, the punishment is clear: He will be turned into an animal of his choice.  David says that if he can't find love, he wants to be a lobster.

The hotel is a blend of the Grand Budapest, the Overlook and Hailsham, the insular school in Kazuo Ishiguro's similarly strange Never Let Me Go.  Its rules are clearly understood by its residents, less so by the audience, but it's the internal, not external, logic of the story that is of greatest concern to director Yorgos Lanthimos, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Efthymis Filippou.  This is not the first time they've worked together, and on the basis of The Lobster, I'd be intrigued but anxious to examine their previous work.  The Lobster is a movie more to be appreciated and considered than entirely enjoyed.

Frequently, a shrill alarm sounds in the hotel and all of the residents are sent on a hunt the capture "loners," survivalist-types who live in the woods that surround the property and who eschew the societal requirement of partnership.  Every loner they shoot with a tranquilizer dart nets them an extra day of humanity before the transformation to animal

One of the guests has been there for more than 300 days.  She's not just a sharpshooter, she's a blank-faced cipher who, it's said, lacks any emotion at all.  As David's days and prospects dwindle, he becomes pragmatic about "love" and settles for this austere woman.  (None of the characters except David is given a name.)  He almost fools himself into thinking he'll be able to make do with her, and in his desperation the movie's themes and ideas finally begin having some emotional impact -- and then she commits a horrific act of violence that jolts David into acknowledging his mistake and throws the movie into an even stranger second half.

He joins the loners in the woods, whose leader (Lea Seydoux) explains her group's equally restrictive set of rules to a rattled David.  When she invites him on a trip into The City to get supplies, he meets another woman (Rachel Weisz), to whom he is instantly attracted.

David is caught between competing ideologies: At the hotel, having a partner is the only thing that matters; the woods, it's the only thing that's forbidden.  David considers the alternative of falling in love without pressure and without a timeline, but his approach has its own perils, not the least of which is unforeseen jealousy.

As David and (as she's called) the Short-Sighted Woman form their attachment, the movie ironically loses some of its focus.  Skewering the idea that people are somehow less than fulfilled without a romantic partner propels all of the scenes at the hotel, but in the forest the satire is less sharp and less sure.  The Lobster piles ideas on top of ideas, so that the very notion that David and the woman might fall in love is too easy a conclusion -- and when the Loner Leader turns against the Short-Sighted Woman, the result comes across as less of a logical plot development than an almost desperate effort to add one more layer of symbolism to the story.

That action, which results in something terrible happening to the Short-Sighted Woman, leads to a final scene that will prove the height of frustration to most audiences.  The movie ends mid-scene, leading us on a difficult, often fascinating journey only to unceremoniously dump us at the side of the road just before we get to the destination. Just like its first scene, the last scene in The Lobster wants to be puzzling, but by that point it's more exasperating.

At turns funny, challenging, troubling and angering, The Lobster isn't entirely satisfying, but it is something that might be even more worthwhile -- it's entirely original.

Viewed May 27, 2016 -- ArcLight Sherman Oaks



  1. "The Lobster is a movie more to be appreciated and considered than entirely enjoyed."

    I've seen a lot of people express a similar sentiment about this film, and I totally agree.

    It's definitely original and has some interesting ideas, but I felt antsy as the film began to push its two-hour mark.

    Nice review.

    - Zach

  2. Thank you, Zach. Movies aren't too different than people: Being appreciated can, in the long run, be even better than being enjoyed.